ACA supporters wary and weary
WASHINGTON» Ben Wikler learned the Affordable Care Act’s fate from a text message. The Washington director of MoveOn.org, who had led nearly daily rallies outside the Capitol to stop repeal, was five hours into the final protest when a colleague passed him her phone, buzzing with texts.
“Pence not in chair,” read one. Wikler read it to the 300 protesters gathered around him. “Murkowski is a no. Let me confirm that. Murkowski is a no.” Then: “McCain is a no.”
Wikler read the text out loud. “It was like fireworks going off,” he said in an interview. “Everyone started chanting U-S-A. Strangers were hugging.”
Later Friday, Wikler and a sizable army of activists were still dazed, and a little nervous. The anti-Trump “resistance” movement, which has repeatedly watched the repeal effort “die” and be miraculously reborn, looked at the Senate vote as a genuine victory, with lessons about how to keep blocking the Republican agenda.
“This is a truly historic victory and a demonstration of constituent power,” said Ezra Levin, a former congressional staffer who co-founded the Indivisible project of grass-roots activist groups. “We should celebrate . . . [but] Trumpcare is not dead. Do not forget that in the House, Ryan declared defeat, and then six weeks later they passed it.”
Activists, who on Friday were still surprised by their victory, credited a number of factors for the turnaround. First, to their surprise, the conservative movement that had so effectively toxified the ACA for voters seemed to phone it in during the repeal fight. Prorepeal organizations such as the Club for Growth ran TV ads to urge House members along, but faded during the Senate battle. The Club for Growth’s biggest contribution, a team-up with the Tea Party Patriots, was a littleseen website that attacks skeptical Republicans as “traitors.” In the end, no TV ads were run to support the Senate’s version of repeal, and no activism or rallies in favor of repeal was seen by any senator.
The Republican decision to craft a conservative bill that only needed intraparty support also put the activists on the same side as health insurance groups and AARP, which activated their own networks to oppose repeal.